In chapter 11 of Sanditon, the narrator playfully avers that “every body must now ‘move in a circle,’—to the prevalence of which rotatory motion, is perhaps to be attributed the giddiness and false steps of many” (Later Manuscripts 203). She reminds us that speaking of one’s community as a “circle” is a dead metaphor, one, in fact, which Austen herself employs more than three dozen times in her other novels.1 In lightly mocking it here, she invites us to pay attention to how the “circle” functions in Sanditon. The fragment opens with the image of an upturned carriage’s wheel spinning in space. This “rotatory motion” is all wrong: carriages enact proper motion only when all four wheels are on the ground. We might be tempted to view this minor catastrophe as an instance of poetic justice: in his giddy attempt to add a medical man to Sanditon to make it a more attractive—and therefore commercially viable—resort, Mr. Parker has taken a “false step,” evidenced by his sprained ankle. On the other hand, this false step could be a felix culpa: the narrator tells us that Mr. Parker has “fallen” into the “very good hands” of the keen-witted Heywoods, who have lived comfortably in their own “small circle” at Willingden for many years (146, 149).
By exploring the implications of the contrast between the rural, agrarian Willingden and the commercial, romantic Sanditon “circles,” I will show that the “circle” itself—that is, conventional Regency middle-class community—is not an object of Austen’s criticism.2 Rather, the Sanditon circle’s pretensions of rootedness and authentic communality, of artifice pretending to be natural, receives Austen’s disapprobation. Sanditon’s lack of rootedness makes it nearly impossible for its denizens to achieve self-knowledge, the sine qua non of individual and communal flourishing we have been taught by Austen throughout her novels to prize. Austen’s final heroine, Charlotte Heywood, is the only character in the fragment who becomes a member of both circles. Austen uses Charlotte’s trials at Sanditon to show that authentic community can be sustained only if its members are willing to strive—through moderation, precise observation, and recollection—to understand the truth themselves, and then to speak the truth to one another.
Willingden and the pleasure of moderation
In chapter 2, Austen devotes only one-and-a-half manuscript pages (two paragraphs in the Cambridge edition) to the history and character description of the Heywood family, a relatively modest passage compared with the Parkers’ four manuscript pages. Nevertheless, Austen uses this brief passage to show that the Heywoods are the moral center of the fragment. Her conciseness here is apt: the Heywoods’ signature virtues are precise observation and moderation. Their habits are all in favor of restraint in physical mobility and household management. The first detail we receive is that they “never” leave “home.” But this absolute “never” is soon moderated. Mr. Heywood does leave home twice a year to journey to London “to receive his dividends” (149). This exception, a clarification for the sake of precision, is our first clue that, in the Heywoods’ view, there is nothing essentially bad about going beyond one’s circle. They are not disinterestedly detached from the outside world. Though Mr. Heywood is a retired country farmer, he has an interest in the nation’s economic (and, presumably, political) prosperity.3 Yet apart from these journeys to the City, the Heywoods restrict their “adventurings” to the environs of Willingden. Mr. Heywood goes “no farther than his feet or his well-tried old horse [can] carry him”; and Mrs. Heywood “only now and then” visits “her neighbours” in their “old coach” (149). Their coach is another sign of restraint, this time economic: it is as old as their marriage, and it has been refurbished only once, ten years ago, to mark the occasion of their oldest son’s reaching legal maturity.
Most of the second paragraph (in the Later Manuscript’s edited version) is taken up by one labyrinthine sentence in which the narrator expands upon the consequences of the Heywoods’ having “a very numerous family” (149). The sentence contains within it both the way things might have been and the way things are:
They had a very pretty property—enough, had their family been of reasonable limits, to have allowed them a very gentlemanlike share of luxuries and change—enough for them to have indulged in a new carriage and better roads, an occasional month at Tunbridge Wells, and symptoms of the gout and a winter at Bath;—but the maintenance, education and fitting out of fourteen children demanded a very quiet, settled, careful course of life—and obliged them to be stationary and healthy at Willingden. (149)
The narrator provides the hypothetical scenario as a teaching moment bordering on reproach for those who fail to see the individual and communal benefits of a large family.4 The teaching only works because of the way Austen has chosen to structure the sentence. The what if phrase comes as a protracted intrusion before the narrator describes what is, and the first clause—“They had a very pretty property”—belongs to both. Austen intends for us to be almost completely drawn in by her apparent criticism of this family sized beyond “reasonable limits.” But through a fast forward montage, we discover that a modest-sized family could have provided the circumstances and resources—the “luxuries” and “change”—for profligacy, vanity, and misery. Although the hypothetical choices look very good at first, in the end, the prospect is comically infernal: the punishment is “gout,” the circle, Bath.
“What prudence . . . at first enjoined,” is “now rendered pleasant by habit” (149). In other words, the things a family of “fourteen children” have “demanded” of the Heywoods and “obliged them” to do have led to their success and happiness as spouses and parents. There is no indication that Mr. and Mrs. Heywood dream wistfully of the different life described in the interrupting phrase of the above passage. Indeed, it would be completely out of character for Mr. Heywood to wish to be anything but a private man who minds his own business.
Tony Tanner describes the Willingden “circle” as “self-sealing,” and proposes that “[e]verything, but everything” it represents and embodies is “degraded, debased, forgotten or transgressed—‘overturned’—in the course even of the fragment we have” (252). I am mostly inclined to agree, yet I wonder about Tanner’s description when I read the details of the following passage. The narrative shifts and is again colored by the Heywoods, and what has been said before is said again—“They never left home”—with the addition,
and they had a gratification in saying so.—But very far from wishing their children to do the same, they were glad to promote their getting out into the world, as much as possible. They staid at home, that their children might get out;—and while making that home extremely comfortable, welcomed every change from it which could give useful connections or respectable acquaintance to sons or daughters. (149)
In my reading, it is vitally important that we recognize that the Willingden “circle” is not “self-sealing.” The Heywoods’ frequent references to their children (three times in the above passage alone) suggest that those children are at the center of their thoughts, actions, and plans. They have spent roughly thirty years devoted to the “maintenance, education and fitting out” of these “sons” and “daughters.” But without wishing to push them out, Mr. and Mrs. Heywood actually praise a certain kind of travel and encourage their children—especially Charlotte—to partake in it. They want Charlotte’s good, and they want her to go with the Parkers to Sanditon.5 Mr. and Mrs. Heywood are the representatives of aristocratic (in the classical sense) values and principles in the fragment: they are most fit to govern because they are most excellent in virtue. They have taught Charlotte likewise to strive for excellence, and they trust the quality of education Charlotte has received from them enough to let her go. Though they are stationary, they believe that moderation and its concomitant pleasures are portable. Human flourishing in this fragment involves being both solid and flexible, rooted and mobile, and the Heywoods have achieved the delicate mean between these extremes.
We are now in a position to begin to question the quality of the “circle” Mr. Parker and his associates want to establish at Sanditon. As we shall see, that circle promotes flexibility and mobility but absolutely at the expense of solidity and rootedness.6 Mr. Parker’s stay at Willingden only lasts for two weeks (and the first two chapters of the fragment). Austen spends much more time observing a denizen of Willingden—Charlotte Heywood—encountering the social circle of Sanditon. Austen makes Charlotte the Parkers’ guest, in part, to test the ultimate practicality of Willingden principles and virtues.
Charlotte Heywood’s trials at Sanditon
Charlotte Heywood is the only character at Sanditon with a habit of recollection, which helps her to attend to the promptings of her heart and mind. This quality, unapologetically praised by the narrator of the fragment, has arisen from Charlotte’s upbringing.7 At Sanditon, Charlotte has her Willingden virtues tried immediately through two temptations: the first, taking place when she visits the library with Mr. Parker, is commercial; and the second, when she meets Sir Edward Denham, is romantic.8
These are, however, chimeric temptations. Apart from the mild momentary crisis, Charlotte resists both with relative ease, remaining in command, unaffected and unmoved. Charlotte’s amusement with what she sees reminds us that she is resisting without much effort the pull of Sanditon’s “rotatory motion.” In these early temptation scenes, Austen works to establish Charlotte’s reliability as an outside observer, since much of what passes subsequently at Sanditon is mediated through her perspective.9
Immediately upon her arrival, Charlotte is taken by Mr. Parker for her first visit to the library, which affords “all the useless things in the world that [cannot] be done without” (167). “[A]mong” its “many pretty temptations,” Charlotte feels the enticement—encouraged by Mr. Parker’s “good will”—to over-spend. She does not yet share her parents’ pleasure in moderation for its own sake. She must still “check herself.” A brief moment of “reflect[ion]” helps her to recall that there can “be no excuse” for a twenty-two-year-old who spends “all her money the very first evening.” Camilla is strategically placed by Austen here as an only mildly needed cautionary tale: in this case, the ground for comparison and caution lies in Camilla’s having gotten herself into debt in the latter half of the eponymous novel.10 Charlotte “repress[es]” not her own emotions or desires but “solicitation,” from Mr. Parker and Miss Whitby, to purchase more of the library’s wares. Her parents would likely be both proud of and unsurprised by her deft management of this first test.
The second temptation comes in the form of romance, in Charlotte’s first encounter with Sir Edward. She finds him “certainly handsome, but yet more to be remarked for his very good address and wish of paying attention and giving pleasure.” Charlotte “like[s] him.—Sober-minded” though she is, she thinks him “agreeable,” and does not “quarrel with the suspicion of his finding her equally so.” Very soon, the narrator interjects a comment, calling Charlotte’s disposition toward Sir Edward “vanity” and making “no apologies” for it (172).
Charlotte is disabused of her illusions about Sir Edward only when he shatters her vanity. At first he attends to Charlotte at the expense of his sister, “disregarding” her “motion to go” (172). Sir Edward’s attention increases Charlotte’s sense of self-importance. But when he observes Lady Denham and Miss Brereton from the window, walking toward the Terrace, he makes an “early proposal to his sister” to leave. The occurrence “altogether” gives a “hasty turn to Charlotte’s fancy” and “cure[s] her of her half-hour’s fever,” placing her “in a more capable state of judging . . . how agreeable” Sir Edward has “actually been.—‘Perhaps there [has been] a good deal in his air and address; and his title [has done] him no harm’” (173). Charlotte is soon safe thanks to her habits of observation and recollection. She has a power he lacks: to look back over the past (even the very recent past) and recall the springs and motives of her own and other people’s words and actions. She passes this test, too, without much difficulty.
Something subtle yet important about Sanditon emerges from this second temptation scene. Once Sir Edward’s spell over Charlotte’s “fancy” is broken, she is able to see that he has a very bad memory. When she is “very soon in his company again” (173), he asks Charlotte, “‘Do you remember . . . Scott’s beautiful lines on the sea?—Oh! what a description they convey!—They are never out of my thoughts when I walk here’” (174). But when Charlotte, declaring that she knows of no such lines from Scott, asks him to quote them, he says, “‘Do not you indeed?—Nor can I exactly recall the beginning at this moment’” (175). Charlotte soon criticizes Sir Edward’s favorite poet, Robert Burns, for his bad memory: “‘I have not faith in the sincerity of the affections of a man of his description. He felt and he wrote and he forgot’” (176), a criticism which, she knows, also applies to Burns’s devotee. Forgetfulness is a universal quality of character for the denizens of this town of houses built on sand.
Charlotte observes that making Sanditon a “public place” has meant replacing traditional, natural features of the community with artificial practices that must be passed off as natural, a process requiring forgetfulness. Mr. Parker encourages his wife to pretend to have forgotten to order the right types and quantities of produce from the Parkers’ gardenstuff provider so that he can give business to “‘old Stringer and his son,’” whom Mr. Parker has encouraged “‘to set up’” in business (158). In the face of the problem of the supply of goods far outstripping demand, Mr. Parker simply invents an artificial demand.11 One major consequence of his speculation scheme—requiring forgetfulness—is that it introduces the need to avoid the truth. It should not be surprising to us that a village in transition privileges innovation and novelty over rootedness in tradition and the past. But we are invited to criticize Mr. Parker for failing to consider that his speculation might have negative consequences for both Sanditon and the individual souls of its inhabitants.
Sanditon’s lack of rootedness precludes self-knowledge. Practically the first thing we hear of Mr. Parker is that he is deficient in this most precious type of knowledge: “All that he understood of himself, he readily told, for he was very open-hearted;—and where he might be himself in the dark, his conversation was still giving information, to such of the Heywoods as could observe” (146). Diana Parker, like her brother, is also deficient in this regard: once Diana discovers her blunder regarding the two large parties she thinks she has secured for the season, the narrator tells us that she has the “sensation of being less clear-sighted and infallible” than she formerly “believed herself” to be: “No part of it,” however, seems to “trouble her long.” Diana refuses to dwell in the uncomfortable position of having been wrong. Her failure to reflect on the recent past makes it easy for her to forget her “share in the shame and the blame” by merging her own identity with the collective “many” (201). Austen shows us that Diana’s strategy, which hinges on a deliberate erasure of the kind of memory that is forged by self-reflection, is toxic for a community.
We have finally arrived at the point in the fragment at which Charlotte’s Willingden virtues and principles are really put to the test: at Sanditon, she experiences the serious temptation not to be truthful in speech with others and, more importantly, in dialogue with herself. Charlotte at least knows that she is dissembling in conversation with Lady Denham in chapter 7: “‘she is very, very mean.—I can see no good in her.—. . . And I am mean too, in giving her my attention, with the appearance of coinciding with her’” (181). Her frustration with herself for placating Lady Denham is a good sign. But two chapters later the discrepancy between what she thinks and what she says seems to pass by her unnoticed. After Diana describes her exertions to ensure that Mrs. Griffiths will bring her large party to Sanditon for the season, she calls upon Charlotte for some comment: “‘Miss Heywood, I astonish you.—You hardly know what to make of me.—I see by your looks, that you are not used to such quick measures’” (189). “The words ‘Unaccountable officiousness!—Activity run mad!’” pass through Charlotte’s mind, “but a civil answer” is “easy” (189). We have already seen the consequences of Diana’s “activity,” and her self-abnegating response to her error (201). Austen’s arrangement here is important for “such of the Heywoods as could observe”: the problem, I argue, is that the Heywood currently in question is no longer as capable of “observ[ing]” as she used to be. Charlotte’s “civil answer” is, “‘I dare say I do look surprised, . . . because these are very great exertions, and I know what invalids both you and your sister are’” (189). The preceding narrative informs us that this is in no way a truthful account of the cause of her surprised look.
One might argue that Charlotte’s “easy” response to Diana makes sense in context. Though Austen does not necessarily condone them, “civil” or polite lies and pregnant silences appear throughout her novels.12 And when Emma Woodhouse teasingly imagines that Mr. Knightley expects Frank Churchill to defy his aunt and uncle by standing up “‘in the middle of the room’” to make a speech “‘as loud as’” he can, we might hear Austen herself endorsing Emma’s question: “‘How can you imagine such conduct practicable?’” (158). Austen is suspicious of dramatic, public remonstration, which is often motivated by the hidden desire to be self-aggrandizing, and we should not expect such behavior from Charlotte when she disapproves of the actions of others at Sanditon. Perhaps it is only because Lady Denham is “mean” that Charlotte is frustrated with herself for having given the appearance of agreeing with her. But Diana is simply overly officious; therefore, Charlotte does not feel obliged to challenge her, and as a guest in the Parkers’ home, she might think that doing so would be improper.13 There is certainly something to be said for this explanation.
But we should recall that even though Charlotte’s father observes that Mr. Parker has the best of intentions when he comes to Willingden prompted by the “Morning Post” and the “Kentish Gazette” to find a medical man for Sanditon, Mr. Heywood nevertheless refuses even for the sake of politeness to allow the reports of newspapers to supplant his certain knowledge that no such man exists in Willingden (139, 142–45). His truthful speech-act makes it possible for Mr. Parker to discover his error, and there is no indication of a difference between private thought and speech at this moment in the text. The narrator’s history and character description of the Heywoods I discussed earlier are framed by Mr. and Mrs. Heywood explaining—politely yet firmly—why they will not accept Mr. Parker’s persistent invitations to visit Sanditon (149–50). Their choice to represent themselves truthfully through speech does not prevent the two families from becoming good friends. On the contrary, we are told by the narrator that the Parkers and the Heywoods grow “to like each other in the course of that fortnight, exceedingly well” (146). Honest speech—telling the truth—engenders authentic community in the Willingden circle.
Authors are bound to convey ethos through the words they choose to have spoken by or about their characters: for Charlotte, then, not to speak truthfully is to become less herself, to lose her identity as an agent. Perhaps the central teaching of the fragment we have is this: truth-telling—first, to oneself, then, to others—keeps a community alive. Charlotte comes from a restricted circle, it is true. Yet that circle is marked by the vitality that springs from living in correspondence to the reality of what is. Sanditon, by its nature, cannot affirm the same reality precisely because Sanditon is almost the burlesque of superficiality. Austen conveys her teaching in nearly indecipherable stages by showing us what happens to Charlotte as she gradually and almost imperceptibly begins to move with the Sanditon circle.
Yet Charlotte’s crisis is altogether of a piece with those of the other major heroines in Austen’s novels. Austen has deliberately given us this moment of Charlotte’s life. Why? Stuart Tave’s response to this question in his analysis of the six complete novels is worth considering:
The time is critical for Jane Austen’s heroines . . . because it is a time in which they face a series of problems and must make the decisions that will determine their moral characters. . . . There is no choice of standing still. One cannot “dwell.” If the Elizabeth Bennet who begins her twenty-first year does not respond properly . . . [to] the many successive tests that face her, month by month, in this critical year of her life, . . . she will not be the same girl in the same place one year older. She will be worse. (10, 14)
Tave’s reflection on Elizabeth Bennet likewise applies to Charlotte Heywood. Despite superficial appearances, Charlotte is not a stagnant character. Austen catches her in the act of changing for the worse. She begins to lose both truthfulness and precise self-observation at Sanditon. Consequently, she becomes alienated from the community and herself. Austen allows this change to happen to Charlotte so that we can see the insidious influence of the rotatory motion of the Sanditon circle.
Countenancing “the modern” in Sanditon
Though Mr. Parker’s enthusiastic overreaching has led to the fragment’s opening image of the up-turned carriage’s wheel spinning in space, its forward, upward motion cannot be thwarted for long. Sanditon-style speculation might be foolhardy, but it also seems, in Austen’s view, to be inevitable. As Mr. Parker’s driver approaches the Sanditon precincts, Charlotte sees the Parkers’ former “moderate-sized house,” a “snug-looking place,” and she is moved to declare, “‘It seems to have as many comforts about it as Willingden’” (155). But Mr. Parker insists that each of these “comforts” has been bested by a feature of Trafalgar House on the hill. Soon enough, having moved beyond the old fishing village-in-transition, Charlotte and the Parkers, “ascending,” pass the “lodge-gates of Sanditon House” and see “the top of the house itself,” the “last building of former days in that line of the parish. A little higher up, the modern [begins]” (160).14
Austen is not in the business of denying, or even lamenting, the fact that the “modern” has begun. Like the Heywoods, she does not teach her readers to be afraid of the world. But she does teach us that we need the virtues of Willingden—its habit of restraint transformed over time to moderation, its clarity of vision, recollection, and truthfulness—to flourish in “the modern” world.
On the other hand, Charlotte’s experience at Sanditon suggests that the place—rooted, limited Willingden—is inextricable from the principles and virtues it inculcates: well-armed though she is, she begins to be drawn in by the superficial habits of the Sanditon circle. Austen draws our attention to her use of the circle as a dead metaphor to alert us to her heroine’s danger at Sanditon. It is a quintessentially Austenian warning: indirect and subtle. Charlotte’s danger is likewise subtle—she effortlessly overcomes the commercial and romantic temptations she confronts right away at Sanditon. The third, much more insidious temptation engages both her strengths and her flaws as a character: her superior intelligence and perceptiveness, which have made her a little vain (172). Her response to this third temptation—to go along to get along by not speaking, which opens the door to a new habit of no longer reflecting on the fact that she is not speaking her mind—is beneath her. It creeps up on her and—again in typical Austen fashion—on us. When Charlotte takes a first step toward forming this habit, she becomes less herself and less intelligible to us as readers. Seeing Charlotte fail in the face of this third temptation, are we really meant to be hopeful about the possibility of acquiring Willingden virtues in the modern world?
At this point, joining scores of readers before me, I will indulge in speculation of my own about Austen’s larger design in Sanditon. In my reading, Austen intended a match between Charlotte and Sidney Parker.15 Like Charlotte, he has been “‘privileged by superior abilities’” and “‘spirits’” (158). He, too loves amusement (158, 164). More importantly, Sidney shares Charlotte’s father’s dedication to speaking the truth (158). He has chosen to be a critical outsider, and his honesty could help Charlotte. But theirs would not be a one-sided relationship. “‘He lives too much in the world to be settled,’” Mr. Parker tells Charlotte (158, emphasis mine). In other words, he lacks moderation. This characterization suggests that Sidney has something vitally important to learn from Charlotte, who, with her parents’ blessing, has been keen to get “out into the world, as much as possible” (149). If Austen intended the match, then we can be sure that Charlotte Heywood’s life in the limited, restricted circle of Willingden has prepared her to meet Sidney Parker with an equal mind, to be helped by him, and to instruct him, too. One very open question remains: could such a match help the Sanditon circle achieve proper motion?
1By my count, the word used in this way appears once in Northanger Abbey, 4 times in Sense and Sensibility, 8 times in Pride and Prejudice, 15 times in Mansfield Park, 11 times in Emma, and 7 times in Persuasion.
2Tony Tanner, too, notices the prevalence of the image of the circle in Sanditon (252, 271–72), but in my view his interpretation of the image errs slightly on the side of oversimplification. Melissa Sodeman notes that while the fragment at first appears to use the circle as a means of criticizing frivolous travel, Austen ultimately endorses a certain kind of travel through Charlotte Heywood’s experience. Sodeman sees Charlotte attaining “a definitive subjectivity,” learning to “interpret properly the characters surrounding her,” and assessing “value in the marketplace” (802). Later, I will test the first two propositions in this list.
3Todd and Bree tell us that “clearly some of Mr. Heywood’s income derives from investments; at that time it would be advisable, if not essential, to go in person to the City or a London bank to collect dividend payments” (LM 640, n. 13). Tanner postulates that these dividends are “for work done and things produced” (270). Tanner’s conjecture perhaps helps to soften Mr. Heywood’s harsh critique of the deleterious effects of bathing-places: “‘Bad things for a country;—sure to raise the price of provisions and make the poor good for nothing’” (LM 142). Mr. Heywood has a sense of the importance of labor beyond obvious, monetary gains. He is among the first characters we meet in the fragment engaged in physical labor. He might be slightly patronizing, but he is no hypocrite.
4My reading here diverges from that of John Lauber (“surely that farcical number [of children] would have been lessened in revision!” ) and of Peter Knox-Shaw (245–46). Large families do not always receive Austen’s endorsement. For example, the daily sufferings—mostly self-inflicted—of the Prices of Portsmouth in Mansfield Park constitute one protracted cautionary tale. On the other hand, the Morlands of Northanger Abbey are exemplary. But at this moment in Sanditon, Austen deliberately avoids critique through syntax.
5Knox-Shaw suggests that Charlotte is keen to get away from the retired Willingden circle. She “gives no fond backward glance at the Parkers’ old estate, or at Willingden either” (246). In my reading, Charlotte is happy to get out into the world, all the while maintaining fondness for her home (see esp. LM 155).
6Edward Copeland is more sympathetic to Mr. Parker. He is also more hopeful than most critics that strong familial ties might counter-balance extreme commercialism (126–27). Though he speaks primarily of the Parker family, I think his argument applies likewise to the Heywoods.
7Margaret Drabble writes Charlotte off as a “prig” and a “prim and uninteresting girl” and homes in on her “rather negative virtues” (xxv, xxix, xxx). Charlotte is a more dynamic character than Drabble allows.
8Or, as Susan Allen Ford puts it, Charlotte is taken up in “[t]he Romance of Business and the Business of Romance” at Sanditon.
9Juliet McMaster provides a thorough discussion of Charlotte’s complex role as observer in “The Watchers of Sanditon.” And Ford challenges the view held by “most critics” of Charlotte as “a rational and normative observer” by pointing out that Charlotte is “herself caught up in the shaping fancies of novelistic design” (182). My reading provides another challenge to the claim that Charlotte is a “rational and normative observer.”
10For a compelling account of Austen’s use of Camilla here, see Ford (183–84).
11Mary Jane Curry notes that Mr. Parker here introduces “an early form of price supports, and his fragmentary syntax indicates his own discomfort with his inconsistent argument. For the first time in history, land use for economic gain was seen as a just reason for individual action and behavior” (170). Tanner deftly highlights the problem of “forgetfulness” at Sanditon, but I cannot agree with his suggestion that Mr. Parker’s strategy is a sign of “eager greed” (258–59, 267). Copeland has a much more complimentary interpretation of this episode (125).
12One well-known instance is found in Sense and Sensibility: “Marianne was silent; it was impossible for her to say what she did not feel, however trivial the occasion; and upon Elinor therefore the whole task of telling lies when politeness required it, always fell. She did her best when thus called on, by speaking of Lady Middleton with more warmth than she felt” (141).
13In the subsequent chapter Charlotte willingly shares her honest opinion on the best course of action a person like Arthur Parker should take to get well: “‘daily, regular exercise’” (196). She has no scruples in that later conversation about concealing her thoughts for the sake of politeness.
Tanner is among those who view Charlotte’s response to Diana as a mere instance of politeness (272). However, he takes Diana’s blunder seriously, and for a very good reason: “what we have is a parody, indeed a negative, of true communal interrelatedness. In a small but significant way, the incident puts the whole matter of ‘communication’ into question: what genuine contacts, links, connections, do in fact exist any more?” (271). Tanner’s earnest question about modern community as it exists at Sanditon merits consideration. I would only add that Charlotte’s politeness indicates that she is being pulled into this sham community. I am therefore moved to challenge Tanner’s view that “we do not worry about [Charlotte]: she has no stake in the game. Instead we are amused, amazed—and at times angered—with her” (263). When we observe the discrepancy between what she thinks about Diana and what she says to Diana and then realize that she may not have observed that discrepancy herself, we can no longer say that “we do not worry about” Charlotte.
14Copeland sees Mr. Parker modeling the kind of imaginative generosity upon which the modern economic system might be safely founded: even with her critique of the “materialism of the new age,” Austen does not, in his view, “attack the principle of public credit itself,” which was becoming a feature of modern English economic and social life (126). For an extensive consideration of Austen’s possible attitudes to public credit, see Emma Clery’s recently published book, Jane Austen: The Banker’s Sister.
15McMaster is open to this speculation (149); Drabble thinks it “likely” (xxx); David Bell thinks it unlikely (see esp. 166).